Music is a wonderful gift we can use to include children in the worshiping assembly and to nurture the faith from one generation to another. But how do we do this?
Include songs with texts that children can handle (while not excluding texts they need to grow into). Young children can understand and appreciate texts such as “This is the feast of victory for our God. Alleluia!” or “Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world; have mercy on us.” As they grow older, they can learn to sing the verses that go with “This Is the Feast.”
When considering texts and children, it is important not to underestimate their abilities. Third- and fourth-grade choir members love to sing “Crown Him with Many Crowns,” especially these words:
Crown him the lord of years,
the potentate of time,
creator of the rolling spheres,
Of course, you need to teach them what the wonderfully poetic phrases “potentate of time” and “ineffably sublime” mean. Children enjoy texts that lift them out of the ordinary, just as they enjoy stories that do the same (the Harry Potter books, for example). What is necessary is to teach, teach, teach.
Sing as children
Include music that lets children sing as children. Children have naturally beautiful singing voices. They can produce a clear, unforced sound that adults cannot make. Choir directors who work with children talk about this as a child’s “head voice.” Melodies that allow children to use this voice lie somewhat higher than many hymns and songs that adults like (especially many newer songs). Too many low notes will not be rewarding to children, and so they will not sing as well.
Children respond well to melodies with an engaging rhythm and will move their bodies to the music as they sing. One way to tell if a melody is engaging the children is to look at them and see if they are moving.
Children respond well to songs that are more lyrical and flowing in style. They can learn to love a beautiful, slow melody. Often what is initially engaging wears out, and the song that needs to “grow on you” becomes the one more loved. What is necessary is to teach, teach, teach.
Repeat, repeat, repeat
Include sufficient repetition so that pre- and early readers can take part. The liturgy of the church is a great gift here. Consistent use of these texts will allow all worshipers, including children, to memorize them. Pre- and early readers will be able to join with adults in the parts of the liturgy as they use them week after week.
Teach, teach, teach
Sunday school should include times when children are taught music that will be sung during the service. This requires a coordinated approach between educators and teachers and those planning and leading worship (usually pastors and musicians). Consider opening or closing confirmation classes with devotions that include singing music used in worship.